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OffWestEnd talks to Stella Kanu about #CONNECT: Black Women in Theatre on 6th March 2019

What first attracted you to the theatre?
That is a big question! In reality I am not sure I remember the first attraction, what I do know is that as a child I had a huge imagination, despite being very academically minded, so in school I was often called out even sometimes bullied for being ‘brainy’. Being brainy was acceptable at home, in fact my parents pushed for more and more. Recently I asked my mum why her and dad was so hard on me and why I got all the chores! She said my imagination (play-acting, making up 2 hander stories, making up lyrics, etc.) and ultimate creativity scared them. They didn’t really know what to do with me so they tried to contain it through washing up and ironing! I was allowed to go to Ovalhouse and it totally chimed with me. It felt like I had permission to explore imagination and I was allowed therefore I was irreversibly hooked. If I’m pushed to name a first show its Unicorn Theatre’s Things That Go Bump in the Night at Arts Theatre that I saw with my school in about 1979/80 I think.

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on BWIT, who/which would it be?
The BwinT
in March is actually being curated by my dream person. Winsome Pinnock is one of the first playwrights work I studied. I was fortunate to be one in the cohort for the UK’s first ever full time BA writing courses at Middlesex University back in the 90s. She is also the genesis for the event after last year Artistic Directors of the Future and the Bush revived Leave Taking 30 years after its debut. It took everyone by storm but also brought into question why the canon of her work, her pioneering spirit, her truthful accuracy was not afforded the same legacy as some others who were writing ambitious political work when she was emerging like Caryl Churchill for example. How does important work become hidden? Winsome herself was not hidden, she was teaching and nurturing new talent and doing it with full mind and heart. Black Women in Theatre is about asking what does this all mean? How do we create pattern disruptors now – and that’s about visibility and connecting across all career levels. I’ve got my eye on Nigeria Playwright Bola Agbaje and debbie tucker green would be the next dream curator!

What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?
Off West End Theatre – it’s where small scale nimble economics mean the most adventurous, inventive and nuanced work has taken place over the years. It’s more intimate for audiences on a practical level because of capacity numbers in the space but often it’s intimate and close because it is much closer to where people live and work. The great thing is that in that context audience sizes create a different ‘knowingness’ about what is on the stage that is often more challenging to present on larger, more commercial stages. It also means experimenting across art form becomes fascinating, when you combine story telling with music, physical theatre, spoken word or dance you amplify the emotional exchange between the space, the work, the artists and the audience.

What was the most inspiring production you have ever seen? Why?
Without question debbie tucker green’s ear for eye at Royal Court. A stunning piece of writing – absolutely no wastage in that script what so ever. Every word counted, every word so integral and correct. The first half I was saying every 3 mins “I wish I wrote this!” The second half had me repeating the mantra “This is just brilliant” all the way through! Now I watch lots of productions, sometimes up to 5 a week, I live for the pieces that are urgent, arresting and above all utterly human and nuanced. Her direction makes what is hidden so clear, no right up in your face and she slaps you awake and that slap is so gentle that it takes you by surprise because she telling my story, our story, everyone’s story and you feel the sting of that slap all day. Sarah Kane said to me once that when she read Bond’s Saved she was so shocked that you could do those things , say those things on stage debbie tucker green makes me feel like that. I saw ear for eye with the rest of my creative team and I couldn’t talk afterwards for the first 15 minutes. None of us could. That’s our aspiration as a theatre right there.

What piece of work are you the most proud of?
I am extremely proud about Brixton City Festival; Ovalhouse’s extended housewarming party with Brixton, before we make the big move to our new building in 2020.We’ve been able to bring theatre, outdoor works and extraordinary pop up moments to the streets of Brixton while showcasing its most important icons like Jackie Guy, Floetic Lara, Ty, Potent whisper, Judith Palmer and Inua Ellams. It’s really doing what theatre always says it can do – be relevant, meet people where they are, say what they want to hear with artists they care about. I pitched Brixton City Festival in my interview for my current role. I am enormously proud we made it happen within months of me being appointed. It’s now in its 4th year and I couldn’t be happier.

What things in your personal life do you draw upon when you organised this event?
I have had a varied career so I’ve drawn on a lot to organise Black Women in Theatre. Firstly I’ve brought people to the table who I have always wanted to talk to. I’ve also had to work out a lot professionally, some in really painful moments as I frequently experienced politically nusanced environments as a lone black women leader. The need to celebrate our successes and achievements, the need to truly celebrate. I’m personally motivated to build on that by empowering others and share the stories of the isolation and pain with celebration. Resilence is not just something that happens it’s born out of joy and pain and sometimes will can get real about that without injuring ourselves through the memories – we can hang out together, share, laugh and get on with it.

Are there people you’d like to work with?
I could name names but would only end up offending those who I don’t mention! I am really interested in a type of person. I call them Tender Warriors. People who are there core are lovers and givers who have the ability to move and act with strength, compassion and a “don’t mess with me” air that gets things done!

Which director do you respect most on OffWestEnd at the moment?
I am really interested to see what Change maker Amanda Huxtable does next after her time at Hull truck. Theatre Peckham seems like it will experience a whole new life with Suzann McLean. I love how Ola Ince is fusing time in the subsidised sector with big commercial hits like Tina. South of the river I am watching with fascination the revolution Kwame Kwei Armah and Mandani Younis will make in the making years. There is virtually nothing that Roy Alexander Weise does that I won’t go and see, such a precise, sensitive director who really takes care of his cast – a wonder to watch and work with.

Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now/next?
We are gearing up for Smack That! (a conversation) by Rhiannon Faith. It’s a raw and honest account of domestic violence but set in the most informal, relaxed environments. As part of this Ovalhouse has become a J9 venue – a safe place for victims of domestic abuse to seek help. It’s on until 3rd March.

#CONNECT: Black Women in Theatre takes place on Wednesday 6 March from 6.00pm at Ovalhouse, 52-54 Kennington Oval, London SE11 5SW. This is a FREE event for everyone. Food and drink will be available at on the night. https://bit.ly/BWiT19 call box office on 020 7582 7680






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OFFIE WINNERS GALORE!!!! READ ALL ABOUT IT!!

Sisters Cindy and Sheila Rhyme are updating Alice in Wonderland at The Courtyard....

MATTHEW CRITCHFIELD and JAZZ FLAHERTY talk about The Black Death, conspiracy and friendship...............

OFFIE SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED after a day of contention, controversy and too much coffee.....

ANTHONY ABUAH talks about putting his heart and soul into writing....

HOW NOT TO RUN A FRINGE THEATRE Part3

Interview with writer Philip Ridley

HOW NOT TO RUN A FRINGE THEATRE Part2

JAMES BURN introduces Legacy Burns

HOW NOT TO RUN A FRINGE THEATRE Part 1 in an endless new series.....

POLIS LOIZOU talks about life, art and CLOTHES TO FALL APART IN

Glenn Chandler and Scouts In Bondage

What is Paul Clarkson doing at The Union?

Bill Bankes-Jones talks about Salad Days and surfing

Carole Carpenter on tour with Jane Austen

Dan Barnard is SHOOTING RATS at an epic new venue

Zimbabwe-born David Dinnell talks about HOW TO COOK A COUNTRY

Director Sarah Norman talks to us from The Finborough

Amy Molloy Interviewed (appearing in Kitty & Damnation at the Lion & Unicorn from 11 Aug 2009 to 12 Sep 2009)

Charlotte Gwinner talks about ANGLE

Kenneth Emson talks about Whispering Happiness and what inspires him....

THE FRENCH ARE COMING to The King's Head!

Paolo Rotondo talks from New Zealand

Writer Stephen M Hunt wishes he had written Slueth

Writer Jeremy Green talks about THE SERIOUS BUSINESS OF CHOOSING A MATE

Andrew Olay talks about inspiration, character amd Tom Courtney

Ellie Turner performs with LOVE&MADNESS

Sondheim's Saturday Night with Helena Blackman

Alistair Green directs The Thingumywotsit at The Hen & Chickens

Racky Plews directs Into The Woods

Robert Lloyd Parry is at Baron's Court

Interview with The Umbilical Brothers at The Leicester Square Theatre

Interview with Iain Pears at The Riverside Studios

Interview with Tim Roseman directing Overspill

Interview with Melanie Wilson

Interview with Gillian Plowman, author of Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe

Interview with Alex Helfrecht

Interview with Michael Gieleta

Interview with director Rhys Thomas

Interview with writer James Graham

Theatre Student Patricia Low posts her Malaysia Blog

Sabina Arthur performs in Under The Veil

Fin Kennedy talks about UNSTATED

Interview with Andrew Keatley

Interview with Ben Hales

Interview with Ali Taylor

Interview with Matt Ball

Interview with Tim Fountain

Interview with Glyn Maxwell

Interview with writer Coda Quashie

Interview with Sarah Mann

Interview with Yolanda Mpele

Interview with Howard Barker

Interview with Brian Timoney

Interview with Laura Stevens

Interview with John Sandy

Interview with Philly Greenwood

Interview with Dean Stalham

Interview with Jack McNamara

Interview with Caroline Partridge

Meet People Show artist Gareth Brierley

Interview with George Mann

Meet Phillip Brook, star of Uncle Barry at the Blue Elephant

Interview with Fin Kennedy

Interview with James Graham

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown V

Interview with Cath Whitefield, now appearing at The Gate

Interview with Lavern Archer

Royal Court Announces Autumn Season

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown IV

Marketing Managers on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown III

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown II

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

Arcola to Create World's First Carbon Neutral Theatre

Interview with Nell Leyshon, Writer of Glass Eels at the Hampstead Theatre

A New Start for the Southwark Playhouse

The Mark Shenton Show

Theatre has moved on - whatever we critics think

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